In 2003 a fire broke out in a Rhode Island nightclub after pyrotechnics were set off. The club was over its legal capacity and the flames moved quickly, engulfing the building and filling it with thick, black smoke. In the rush to escape the overcrowded club, over 200 people sustained injuries and 100 people perished, making it the fourth-deadliest fire in U.S. history.
According to Marco Island firefighter/ paramedic and Public Education Coordinator Chris Bowden, some of the deadliest fires in U.S. history involved places of assembly that had excessive occupant loads with exits that were not apparent to panicked patrons.
Bowden facilitates the Crowd Management course for the Marco Island Fire Department. The course teaches designated individuals how to manage large crowds in the case of an emergency—be it a fire, natural disaster, or an active shooter situation. It’s part of the Florida Fire Prevention Code Section 101-12.7.6, which states, “any user of indoor facilities (excluding churches) where 50 people or more will be present must have trained crowd managers present.”
The code requires that for every 50-250 people one crowd manager be present. For every 251-500 there should two crowd managers, and for every additional 250 people one crowd manager should be added.
The six-hour comprehensive Crowd Management course is taught in conjunction with the Marco Island Police Department and details the steps a crowd manager must take in order to subdue panic and get peopleout of a building in an orderly fashion. Most recently Bowden has added a walkthrough portion of the class where he will travel to the facility and set up emergency-like scenarios.
“We’ve incorporated a walkthrough of their facility to look at key hazards and potential hazards and to make sure that they’re as safe as they can be,” said Bowden.
Recently about 20 church leaders from the Marco Island Presbyterian Church took part in the class. Though churches aren’t required, many have been participating due to the crowded nature of their facilities. Bowden has also held the class for the Marco Lutheran Church.
During the walkthrough Bowden helped the church leaders come up with strategies on how to best handle different emergency situations. He also made suggestions on how to better assist in the evacuation process. Bowden took the participants through each room in the church, answering questions and advising on safety methods.
“This class teaches individuals about panic, how to try and absorb panic and control it,” said Bowden. “It’s all really common sense stuff that just needs some sort of structure and educating.”
Church Elder Jim Carl echoed this sentiment. He said, “part of it is knowing what to do and knowing how to communicate that to the crowd around you. A lot of what it is, is common sense.”
To set up a class contact Chris Bowden at CBowden@cityofmarcoisland.com or 239-438-5319, Marco Island Fire Department 239-389-5040.